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Aquil, Askia Muhammad.
Askia Muhammad Aquil
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Otis R. Anthony and members of the Black History Research Project of Tampa.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (63 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (digital, PDF file)
Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida oral history project
Other interviewers for the Black History Research Project of Tampa were Fred Beaton, Joyce Dyer, Herbert Jones, and Shirley Smith.
Interview conducted in 1979, month and day unknown.
Askia Muhammad Aquil discusses school desegregation in Hillsborough County and the establishment of USF's Africana Studies department. He also describes his attempt to run for public office, and discusses the local political system.
Aquil, Askia Muhammad.
x Politics and government.
Anthony, Otis R.
Black History Research Project of Tampa.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS
COPYRIGHT NOTICE This Oral History is copyrighted by the University of South Florida Libraries Oral History Program on behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of South Florida. Copyright, 2009, University of South Florida. All rights, reserved This oral history may be used for research, instruction, and private study under the provisions of the Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of the United States Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section 107), which allows limited use of copyrig hted materials under certain conditions. Fair Use limits the amount of material that may be used. For all other permissions and requests, contact the UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA LIBRARIES ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at the University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fo wler Avenue, LIB 122, Tampa, FL 33620.
1 Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida Oral History Project Oral History Program Florida Studies Center University of South Florida, Tampa Library D igital O bject I dentifier : A31 000 75 Interviewee: Askia Muhammad Aquil (A A ) Interviewer: Fred Beat on (FB) Otis Anthony (OA) Interview date: Unknown  Interview location: Unknown Transcribed by: Unknown Transcription date: Unknown Interview changes by: Mary Beth Isaacson Interview changes date: December 3, 2008 Final edit by: Maria Kreiser Final edit date: February 23, 2009 [Transcriber's Note: There is no formal start to this interview.] A skia Muhammad Aquil : Muhamma d A qu il. It was recently changed about the middle of January. Now, most people know me by the name under which I was bor n which is O tha Leon Favors J unio r. I'm originally from St. Petersburg. I attended public school there. I've been in Tampa since 1966, October September of 1966 and came over here to at that time to finish my education at the University of South Flor ida I got involved in a number of different activities h ere in Tampa and have stayed here for thirteen years. Fred Beaton: Okay. Well, the first question I 'll ask you is to give me a historical analysis of your political career starting with high schoo l. AA: Of my political career. FB: M m hm AA: All right. Well, I've always been an activist even before the term was coined. I was active in high school you know, homeroom class officer sophomore class officer, president, I believe junior class offic er, senior class officer. I was always active in student government, as well as honor society, French club, tennis t eam, choir, high school annual [yearbook] those k inds of things. So I've stayed pretty busy. As a matter of fact, I was going through some old records with my mother just last weekend over in St. Pete and she pulled out a certificate that I received, something that I had completely forgotten about. But during graduation they used to give you the awards for perfect atten dance and those kinds of things FB: M m hm
2 AA: and I received an award for being the most active student in the class. So I guess it kind of set the tone for the kind of lifestyle that I've developed over the past few years. I keep pretty active and pretty busy in differe nt things. FB: Okay. Can you trace the development of education in Hillsborough County I mean, the problems affecting education, the problems affecting the kids and their education. And where do we go fro m now ? What are the turns we should make in the fut ure? AA: Okay W ell, my direct involvement and concern, I guess you would say, with the state of education and the future of education in Hillsborough County started back a year or two prior to the implementation of the full desegregation plan. Now that was implemented in August of 1971. But many of the activities leading up to the implementation of this present plan the plans w ere publicly discussed, meetings held, legal battles, or what have you, were taking place during the period of 1968, 1969, 1970. The suit was filed before that and there was activit y leading up to this. FB: Can you name any of the suits that was filed? AA: Yeah W ell, it started with Andrew Manning, who most peopl e know as Jerry Walker, the disc jockey radio disc jockey and club manager FB: And what year was this, then? AA: Let's see, I could probably find it. I forget exactly the year, but I'll dig that out while I'm talking. But Jerry filed a suit because he was unable to attend a school that was close to his home and he was forced to ride a bus across the county to a black school. His family complained and they filed a protest and that is what got Hillsborough C ounty legally involved in the process of desegregation. There were a number of different alternatives that were pre sented, a number of different plans a s happened in most areas of the co untry T he Hillsborough County S chool B oard, which at that time I believe was under the supervision of J. Crocket t Far nell FB: Right. AA: But the school board proceeded with all del iberate s peed, which meant slowly, very slowly. Yet, at the same time, they were maintaining that there wa s no segregated schoo l system. And for a long time I guess some ten or fifteen years or more you heard that argument that things are fine here. The schools are desegregated. We don't have any problems. And this led up to eventually led to the situation that developed around 1967 1968 where the federal courts ruled that the school system had to bring about total desegregation or else. And it was a t that time that you star ted to have some frantic moves o n the part of the school system to try to come up with a plan that was workable in the community but also acceptable to the courts. Francisco R odriguez [Junior] was the practicing atto rney at that ti me, back in the early part of the sixtie s [1960s] who did much of the legal work for the NAACP and fought those early battles.
3 But again, in 1968 while I was a student at the University of South Florida, Dr. [Martin Luther] King was killed and that awak ened me and some of my friends, people I knew around campus, and caused us to begin to take a hard look at American society in general and then at our particular surroundings the University of South Florida and Tampa, to see how racism and discrimination and oppression and segregation existed during that period and what we could do about it. So we set about to bring about some changes and some reforms at University of South Florid a. We formed, at first, a group that was called t he One to One Group which was a multi racial, multi ethnic organization made up of students and professors and some people from administration who gave USF a g ood hard look. We did a survey o n the school and rated it in terms of its institutionalized racism. We discovered at that time that there were maybe two or three professors African American professors a few part time instructors T he majority of people who were in employed o n the campus were in janitorial jobs janitors and what have you. So we set about to do something abou t that. Also, there were just a handful of brothers and sisters o n the campus. Probably let's see if I remember correctly, the total enrollment out there at that time might have been eleven, twelve, thirteen thousand, and I doubt it if you had a hundred a hundred and fifty full time students out there S o we wanted to increase student enrollment. O f course, there were no black history courses or bl ack oriented African American oriented courses at all: h istory, education, English, p sychology. Nothing de aling with African studies. So we wanted to do something about that. And also, as far as financial assistance was concerned there were just the regular student loan and student grant activities so we wanted to do something about that. So we worked both through the One to One Group and then we also formed the Af ro American Society, which was I think the fi rst black student organization o n that c ampus W e set out to challenge some of those things. As a result of FB: What year was this? AA: That was in nineteen late 1968 or early 1969. It was during that period. All of this began after the as a result of Dr. King's assassination. (flips through papers) I guess around 1969 we had banded together some thirty or forty students o n the campus and decided to actively campaign to set up an Afro American Studies program. We were fightin g for a department for the program. But we held some marches and some demonstration and some rallies. We drew up a list of demands, presented them to them to the administratio n. This was during the time when San Francisco State [College] was in an uproar because the BSU [Black Student Union] there was so strong and they had called a strike. Columbia University was in an uproar. One of the schools in New York [Cornell Universi ty] was in an upro a r several of the colleges in the S outh, predomina ntly black schools in the S outh It was also during the period of the anti Vietnam War movement.
4 So there was just a lot of student activity and a lot of apprehension o n the part of schoo l administrators and administrations, and authorities in general. I mention that be cause at USF we were faced with a situation that really turned out to be a little bit comical. A t the same time it was fearful for both sides. On the day that we decided to present our demands to the administration we met in the University Center about fifteen, twenty of us, and we got our heads together and started to march across the quadrangle toward the administration building. And I guess the secretaries and other people in the a dministration building could loo k out the window and see us coming. So by the time we got there all the doors in the building were locked and we were told that several of the people secretaries and all had gotten down o n the floor behind the desks for fear of what we might do. Bu t because we couldn't get in we ended up sliding demands under the door. The administration got back in touch with us a day or two later. We sat down, they were willing to negotiate. And it resulted in the first Afro American Studies program in the state of Florida being established. Nineteen sixty nine, 1970 we began to read in the paper abou t the plans that were being considered for achieving total desegregation of the Hillsborough Coun ty school system. Now, some of t he students o n the campus had come from different communities. I was from Pinellas C ounty Connie Tucker was a student there ; she was from Sarasota. Other people were from other schools, or other states, or other i n some instances other states, ot her counties in Florida or other states. And many of us had had experiences, prior experiences, with school desegregation. In Pinellas C ounty, for example, several years prior to 1969 when Pinellas High School, i n Clearwater what used to be Pin ellas Hig h School in Clearwater was desegregated All right, you had Clearwater High School which was the all white high school and Pinellas High School which was the all black high school. T hey decided to desegregate and it resulte d in the all black high schoo l Pinellas High School being completely shut down and the brothers and sisters being absorbed into Clearwater. The same thing had happened in Sarasota. I think the na m e of the school there I think the na m e of the all b lack school was Lincoln High School 1 and the same thing happened. So, when we heard about desegregation coming to Hillsborough County we were concerned that the same thing not happen here that we had seen happen in places where we had co me from E ven though I had never attended public scho ol here but you know, we felt that all of us were brothers and sisters W herever we were we had a responsibility to try and look out for each other and to help, to at least give a warning if we saw that we could do that. 1 Lincoln Memorial High Scho ol was actually located in Palmetto, in Manatee County. Aquil is referring to Booker High School in Sarasota. Both schools were closed and their students reassigned to other schools. Booker's local community sued the Sarasota County School Board and were s uccessful. The school reopened in 1970 as an integrated school, after being closed for one year. Lincoln was converted into a middle school.
5 So we set about to spend time off the USF Campus, out in the community, getting around talking with people, writing letters to the [ Florida ] Sentinel Bulletin passing out leaflets, calling meetings, and h aving little marches and demonstrations, trying to warn the community to be a ware if the same approach is taken to desegregation it will result in the black schools being closed and principals and teachers being laid off and increase in problems for our students rather t han a real help. That went o n from 1969 build ing up to a crescen do in 1971. I testified before a federal judge Ben Crensman when the desegregation hearing was held I think that was in May 1971 to determine what final plan would be approved. And all this time we had been opposing the plan and been encouraging peopl e in the community to oppose the plan because again, the handwriting o n the wall was clear based o n what had happene d in other areas and also based o n some of the specific things that were written into the Hillsborough County desegregation plan. We achie ved a large degree of success in the sense that most people were not aware of what was in the making simply because we were not digging into or going to school board meetings, asking questions and really trying to look behind what was being presented. I think early 1971, the governor R e ubin Askew, supervised what was called a straw ballot here. And there was a state wide vote that was cast t o determine if people were pro were for or against bussing to achieve desegreg ation. In Hillsborough County 50 pe rcent of the people in our community voted against it. Yet after all the smoke cleared the plan was approved anyway. Ther e was some very strong dissent o n the part of different people in the community. We formed (to someone else) Peace, brother. Other Man: Yeah, how you doing? AA: Okay. All right. We formed (to someone else) Yes, sir. How you doing? Child : (inaudible) AA: (inaudible) Pause in recording AA: Okay. In 1971 a cross section of people from throughout Hillsborough County came togeth er and formed what was called the Hillsborough Black Caucus, the purpose of which was to monitor and to oppose those aspects of the desegregation plan that we felt were objectionable. Rudolph Harris was a member of that caucus. Mr. C. Blythe Andrews, S enio r was one of the strong supporters and backers. Mrs. Warren o h, what
6 was her name? Mrs. Emma Warren. And there were several ministers. Mr. Ernest Spivey who was a member of the American Legion Post #167 as a matter of fact headed the post at that time. And a number of different people all came together and sa t about to try to really mobilize the full backing of the community. Mrs. Freddie Jean Cassal was also a member. Simon Wilson was one of the participants. Among other things we held a big rally at Middleton High School one Sunday afternoon. There were about five or six hundred people who came out. And, again, the o pposition to the plan was the thing that bound everybody together. Several influential members of the Longshoremen s Association were al so active participants. Mr. Harold Reddick, who at that time was an active member of the NAACP. All of us met and shook hands and agreed that we will hang together and try to keep the plan from being implemented because of things li ke the fact that it was obvious that we would be bussed ten out o f twelve years as compared to two out of twelve years for white students in the county. It was common knowledge that a number of principals' and teachers' jobs were jeopardy. Because the philosophy was that blac k schools were innately inferior and the teachers who taught in those schools were inferior T herefore, when we combine the black schools and white schools the inferior would need to be discarded. Of course, i n most people's minds it meant that we would have to give up our schools and our teachers' jobs would right away be in jeopardy. There were a number of teachers who resigned quite a few teacher s who resigned in 1971 rather than become a part of the desegregated school system because of these kinds o f injustices. Since 1971 when the plan was implemented well, a couple of things before we go on beyond that. I t's important to remember also that at that time, all through that period, the s chool b oard was all Caucasian, to tal lily white. There had nev er been any representation o n the board from our community. An d we didn't achieve that until, what, 1976? Right? Is that when Reverend [A. Leon] Lowry got elected? Otis Anthony : Somewhere around there, seventy seven  AA: Right, seventy six  seventy seven  Seventy six  That's when it was, 1976. So this presented a problem. Now these we re some of the things that we were pointing to in opposing the pla n. We said if the community if the board if those people who if the federal ju dge even is sincere about desegregating the school system and bringing about a unified system start from the top and work down. Desegreg ate the board because the s egregation that existed was maintained and controlled by the people who maintained and co ntrolled the school system, by the minds that ran the school system. And if they were thinking segregation, even though they were supposedly abiding by the judge's order to desegregate, that it could only result in another form of segregation. And, in fa ct, this is what happened. A year or two years, three years after 1971 we started to get reports of segregation within the schools s egregation within classrooms. We started to get reports of disproportionate numbers of students from our community
7 who we re being expended or expelled. I think the first instances of thi s began to surface in late 1972, seventy three  school year. From 1971 to 1973 there was a significant amount a degree of turmoil in the schools. FB: Before we go to that, w hat was the problem a ffecting the closing of Blake [High School] and Middleton, the problems that the black community was having with the s chool b oard? AA: Well, i t stemmed from several things. First of all, again, people believed many pe ople believed, and, su rprisi ngly, a large number of ou r own people believed or else strongly felt that our schools were inferior, that Blake and Middleton were inferior. There were a number o f people in our community who fel t that way. Because the school was all black, because there had been an inequitable distribution of funds, the monies had not been equitably spent between Middleton as compared to Hillsborough or Blake as compared to let's say Plant [High School] or Robinson [High School] So it's a matter of record that more mo ney was put into the white school s than the black schools. Right, but that doesn't necessarily make the school inferior T hat means that's another problem. There was an injustice there, but it did not mean that those schools were inferior and did not have something to offer. So that was one problem, the fact that so many people black and white, school offi cials as well as laypeople felt that the schools were inferior and, therefore, needed to be closed or else absorbed into the white schools. The other p roblem was that in dealing with that the school system wanted to either close those schools altogether, as had happened in other counties, or else they wanted to make those schools a part of to absorb those schools so that they would be a part, but a subs ervient part, of their schools. For an example, one of the plans that was presented was to pair Middleton with Hillsborough High School. But Middleton was to lo se its identit y. Now in 1970 Blake and Plant, I believe, and Middleton and Hillsborough High Schoo l were paired. There were some three four five hundred students from Blake who were transferred from Blake to Plant and th e same thing from Middleton to Hillsborough. And those students and a n equal number of Caucasian students were supposed to be transferred into Middleton and to Blake. Well, all along right across Twenty Second S treet, for an example, just o n the other side of Twenty Second during that time there were a large number of Caucasians who live d right there, right across the street fro m the school B ut the school system maintained that they could never locate them and they could never make 'em attend the school. In 1970 the s ame thing happened T hey transferred the brothers and sisters out of the school but when it came time for the Caucasian students to attend they didn't show up. Maybe fifteen or twenty out of some three or four hundred students wh o were supposed to attend. The s chool system says, "W e don't know where they are T here's nothing we can do about it ; we can't make the m attend. So consequently the enrollment a t those
8 two schools dropped by three four maybe five hundred students. So then the school system ca me back and the superintendent and at that time Dr. Shelton, Raym ond Shelton was superintendent said, "W el l, because Blake is four hundred people under capacity and Middleton is several hundred students under capacity, we c an't justify maintaining them as high schools so we re either gonna close 'em or else we re gonna make them junior high schools. And, of course, this alarmed the community for several reasons. They didn't want to see the schools close. And they didn't want to see the schools become junior high schools because it would mean that the band and the football teams would lo se the s tatus and the prestige that they had held not only here in the community, but in the state and in the southeast as a whole. I think Blake well, Blake and Middleton were enjoying very high reputation either for football then or basketball B oth of the teams were excel ling athletically. And so, like the Ye Old Timers, who were the alumni of Middleton : Billy Felder I can't call the nam es of some of the other members Allie Cartman, who was a member of the Longshoreme n but was also a member of the Old Timers. I worked to gether with them. The Dads Club from Blake. And so all these forces began to work together to try to keep the schools from being closed and to try to keep them from being turned into junior high schools, and to at least maintain one of them as high school s if it was impossible to maintain both of them. And, again, that resistance took the form of meetings and ( inaudible ) announcements in churches, attendances at school board meetings. There were a couple of instances where the school board meetings actual ly had to be canceled because the community was so outspoken in its op position to what they were doing Otis [Anthony] I had met O tis during that time who was student body president at Blake High School I think he was in his senior year T here were se veral marches and demonstrations. There was one march in particular which was a two pronged march : one leg that kicked off from Middleto n High School, the other leg that kicked off from Blake. The two legs met in Central Park. They had a big rally there a t Meacham [Elementary School] right there on the playground. And then we went down to the s chool b oard meeting together. And there were so many people that they couldn't even I think the meeting h ad been transferred up to the thir d floor in an auditorium T hey co uldn't even get all the people o n the second and thi rd floor. They finally locked the doors with the lobby full, with the thi rd floor full, with the elevators full, the stairs full there we re people outside the doorways o n both front and back of th e county building. S o it got a little bit out of hand. But I think it made the point to the school system that people were, in fact, very disturbed about what was happening. FB: Okay. AA: O f course again in 1971, when the hearing was held the plan w as presented to the judge, Mr. E. L. Bing, who is not gi ven the credit that is due him or the notoriety that is due him, depending o n what your position is B ut he had really taken the front seat in
9 drafting the plan and pushing it through. The plan itself in its final form, even went beyond what the federal courts themselves had ordered. For example, at that time the federal cour ts had not established an eighty twenty ratio in every school. This is something that Mr. Bing and some of the people who were working with him came up with. And they presented this to the judge and to some of the other people who were reviewing it. They got behind it. They formed what was called a Committee of 100 and that committee was made up of people from throughout Hillsbo rough County. They were religious leaders, political leaders, businessmen, educators, parents, students, suppos edly representing the total spectrum of the county. And for a period of several days they met and talked an d broke up into seminars and workshop s and what have you. The effect of the Committee of 100 was that it gave this parti cular plan the semblance of having solid community backing B ut in fact, many of those criticisms that people ha d voiced a year, a year and a half, two years before the su mmer of 1971, many of those criticisms remained after the Committee of 100's report. Many of those criticisms remained after Judge Crensman made his ruling. And some of thos e criticisms that were voiced ten years ago, nine years ago, we're still hearing ri ght now. For an example, wit h the present controversy over t he closing of the schools. People are going down saying W e are tired of bearing the brunt of bearing the burden of desegregation. Well, this was something th at was said in 1970, that we in fact, w ere bearing the brunt of desegregation. In that sense we're still dealing with shades of the same problem. Between 1971 and the present, 1979, the community has reacted to a number of symptoms that a re an outgrowth, in my opinion, that were symptom s that are an outgrowth of the new p roblem that was created when this plan was implemented. For example, again to mention the closing of schools in our community. All right, with these five schools that are in jeopardy, this was a cr iticism that was rais ed in 1970, seventy one  FB: M m hm AA: We talk about the high suspension rate expulsion rate something that the community battled openly against from 1973 up until 1977 seventy six [19 76 ], seventy seven [19 77 ] before anything was done at all, bef ore the superintendent and the board even acknowledged that this was a legitimate concern. It took the appearance, in Hillsborough County, of the United States Civil Right s Commission, of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and of several othe r official quasi official agencies or organizations, to come in and actually conduct hearings, investigations and what have you, before the board finally acknowledged and they never conceded but they at least acknowledged that there was, in fact, a problem ; there were disproportionate suspensions. Another problem that we're still dealing with and we still have not met this square, or head on yet. It was contended that by desegregating the school system, by putting blacks
10 students and white students side by side in the sa m e classroom, that our students who had been characterized as being less intelligent and generally lower achievers and what have you, that there would be a dramatic increase in our intellectual ability as well as in our academic perform ance. And of course, we challenge that because that whole assumption is racist and white supremacist to begin with. To say that by putting black students next to white students, black students are automatically going to do better, as if to say there's som ething magic about whiteness or about the white school system or the white teaching method or what have you. Tape 1, s ide 1 ends; tape 1, side 2 begins AA: I think that it's becoming evident even for the die hards that there has been no that this form of desegregation has brought about no dramatic improvement. As a matter of fact in many ways it has don e a lot of harm to our students, emotionally, psychologically, culturally, and has created some new problems that have ended up that have resulted in doin g academic harm. I mentioned some examples Black History Week Black History Month was widely acknowledged in predominantly black schools prior to desegregation. We didn't get as much cultural awareness, historical awareness, as we should have gotten in those schools but sti ll, during that period of time, during that week or that month, there was a satur ation. Between 1971 and 1973 or four  most of the schools in Hillsborough County abolished the Black History Week, or African American History Wee k. In some instances they sought to replace that with what they called Brotherhood History or Brotherhood Week or something. But the effect of it was that it denied us that little opportunity that we had to really learn something about ourselves. Now, o ne of the arguments in 1971 against the par ticular plan was that the plan the Hillsboro ugh County d esegregation p lan and the whole concept that was being implemented across the country it addressed itself to where people went to school, but not to what hap pened to their minds in the school that they attended, regardless of the school. And we felt that that was more important, that the emphasis should have b een o n substance, you know, what happened to your mind in school, what you were being taught, and of c ourse what you were not being taught a nd to try to remedy that rather to worry so much about where people went to school and how many numbers of students from this group or t hat group were sitting in a classroom. We felt that that was irrelevant to the pr ocess of education. Again, I maintain that that's still pretty m uch the case. But there were instances for example, Plant City High School where a number of students from our community were suspended, expelled, or else arrested simply because they want ed to observe Black History Week in the school. At Plant City High School, for example, some students had been given permission to set up a bulletin board exhibit you know, by some of the teachers or deans or somebody as a part of Black History Week. They went and set t he board up and the Caucasians o n the campus decided that they didn't like what was on the board so they reneged on their permission, o n thei r promise, w hich of course angered the students and result ed in an outbreak o n the campus.
11 And agai n, there were students who were suspended or expelled, or who ended up with criminal records because of that. The dropout rate rose during that period. Parents who before 1971 had been very actively involved with the s chool system you know the PTAs [Par ent Teacher Associations] used to be strong. T hey backed the schools T he PTA and Ye Old T imers at Middleton helped buy uniforms, they bought the school bus, they did other things around the campuses. But parents were so angered, disillusioned, frustrated, and what have you fed up that many of them just dropped out. They stopped being involved at all. Those that tried to maintain some involvement with the schools or with the PTAs were upset at the kind of treatmen t that they got when they went o n a campus you know, they'd go out there o n a campus to inquire about your child or to show some concern or some interest in education and the principals and the teachers made you feel like you were trespassing. You went out of your way to go across the county to a ttend a PTA meeting and of cou rse, the parents were outnumbered. T hey felt that their views were not being considered. So, many of them just stopped. So fo r a period of probably four or five years our community really o ur students were being victimized b y things that were happening in the school system. Parents were cut off and became dis involved. The teachers and principals were silenced, those who were not out and out dismissed. They were silenced ; they were afraid to speak out. The black educators association I forget the name of wh at that organization was called but they were that organization had been dissolved and the teachers had become a part of the CTA [Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association] Well, they were outnumbered T hey were afra id to speak out. They had seen instances where other people had spoken out, had their heads had their necks chopped off or been threatened or intimidated, victimized in one way or another so they were afraid to speak out. So we were really defenseless You know, the students were having to battle for their lives o n the campus in some cases physically, but certainly academically. We got a lot of instances of children who were being subjected to racial slurs by students, by teachers were being called "n iggers" and "pickaninnies" and these kinds of things. And they had no protection whatsoever. There was nothing in the desegregation plan itself to protect them. The Bir acial Advisory Committee and the human rights component, those things were added later There was no student rights bill or what have you. There was no grievance committee or grievance procedure. All of these things really should have been considered right in line or even before the plan was actually drawn up and implemented. If you know that there are snake s in the water and you want to go for a swi m and you know that snakes bite, y ou don't jump in the water with the snakes i n there. You try to get the snakes out first FB: Right.
12 AA: then you get in. That's the intelligent thing to do FB: So that was the major problem of education during this time? AA: Yeah, right. Tha t was the major problem. Again, t here were two concerns in our community, as I see it. One was that we were all concerned about raising the quality of education for ou r students. There was no disagreement with that. We wanted to improve the quality of education received by our children. And the other concern was to desegregate the school system. There was no qualms about that. We were all in America and we were supposed ly united and one nation under God with freedom, justic e, and equality for everybody. So the whole impetus at that time of the civil rights movement and the student movement and the general desegregation movement was to tear down all those walls and al l t he barrier that had brought about white toilets and black toilets and white drinking fountains and black drinking fountains and white schools and black schools and what have you. But we did not want to bring about that desegregation at our expense, with th e destruction with those things that were dear to us. And secondly, many of us disagreed with the theories with the white supremacist notion that the way to improve our education and to increase our intellectual ability, to increase our job capabilities, to increase our opportunities in other ways W e didn't feel that the way to do that was to make us subordinate, or to make ou r community subordinate to the C aucasian community. All right? So in that sens e we sought out to solve two p roblems. And in my o pinion, we ended up makin' those problems worse simply because we approached them with the wrong philosophy. FB: Okay. Can you trace the development of black leadership in Hillsborough County, as you see it? AA: Mm m Well, I don't know if I can really d o that, first of all, because my roots in Tampa Hillsborough County only go back thirteen years. FB: Well, the thirteen years that you were here. AA: Yeah, okay. And then the second problem is that w hen you talk about leadership that's still something that we have to deal with very carefully simply because number one, there are different kinds of leaders There are different levels of leaders. There are acknowledged leaders and then there are leaders who are designated or appointed leaders by people, many of whom are not even a part of our community. For example, there are some peo ple who have labored very hard people in our community who have labored very hard either in the arena of civil rights, in the area of business, in the field of education, in the religious field A nd they have, in fact, earned the title of "leader" simply because they have struggled and have risen to the top in a particular segment of the commun ity.
13 Yet at the same time, many of those people do not seek to exercise any r eal community leadership. They are leaders in the certain area of the community but they do not seek to exercise any community leadership. For an example, there are I don't know how man y ministers in the community, but most of those ministers are only sat isfied and you'd have to c all them community leaders. They' r e religious leaders Some of them head congregations that are a thousand strong which would put them at the head of some of the most potentially powerful orga nizations in the community. Yet, the y do not seek to exercise that leadership anywhere outside of their church. All right, the sa m e thing is true in business. There are a number of people like Lee Davis or the gentle man that heads Central Life What's FB : Ed Davis. AA: r ight Ed Davi s who have been successful. Or C. Blythe Andrews who had been successful in their business efforts A nd at the sa m e time like notably with Mr. Andrews Senior and Junior Mr. Davis of Central Life, have also involved themselves or the Harveys and some ot her families that you could mention have also deeply involved themselves in community activities in one form or another. So they exercis e leadership in that sense. But yet, that leadership may be limited to a particular field. For an example, you ng Mr. [ Perry Junior] Harvey has concentrated primarily in things dealing with labor. He's also been involved in some economic development activities. But Mr. Harvey, S enio r, was not particularly involved with education. Mr. Stewart Garland Stewart is one and has been one of the giants in the area of edu cation. Mr. Bing has been one of the giants in area of education in the community. A number of other people. But, o n the other hand, when you look at their approach toward dealing with the educational crisis that faced us then and that still faces us now then you have to question their leadership because leadership seeks l eadership not only leads but it has to solve a problem. Yeah, you can be leading in the wrong direction. You can be leading in the right direc tion. If you're leading in the wrong direction then you r leadership has to be questioned. Right? And, again, this is part of the problem. The solution to this, not only here in Hillsborough County but elsewhe re, is for us to do two things. Number one, t o seek to bring about united structures that will create a united form of leadership which will diminish the possibi lity or the tendency of individual error. Two heads are better than one. I might see one perspective, you might see another, yet if we put our heads together we may come up with what is closer to the total picture. So we need to do that. The second thing that we need to do, we need to arrive at a means w e need to set up a way that we can begin to democratically decide who represents us, wh o leads us in some of these different areas, and then hold that leadership responsible. That way if we see the
14 leadership going wrong we can pull the reigns of that leadership. If the leadership does not respond and listen then we can dispose of that le adership and throug h the democratic process say, "Y o u no longer lead us, o r, "W e no longer follow you, w hichever way you want to interpret it. And this is the evolution th at all groups c ommunities, societies, nations eventually arrive at. Now that's s omething that we need to do here. We need to begin to set up a means of electing a community council. And electing people who will a nd I don't just m ean electing somebody to serve on a city council or electing somebody to serve o n the county commission. I mean electing people to whom we delegate certai n responsibilities, certain authority, who are responsible to our community. When we begin to do that then we ll see ourselves sitting down together, analyzing where we are, coming up with solutions to the p roblems that we have identified and defined, developing plans for attacking those problems and then proceeding in unity to try to bring about the change that we would like to see take place. Until we do that we' re just going to continually be dragged a long behind somebody else's scheme, somebody else's plan, somebody else's design and all we ll be able to do is react, to protest, to scream and holler, and try to minimize our casualties. And that is what I see as a crisis of leadership. The crisis is to or the challenge is for us to come together and establish some structure for united leadership that would be able to accomplish all the different facets of problems tha t we experience : housing, education, political representation in government, economic development, social development, cultural development, caring for your young, for the elderly, and all of these things we n eed to begin to attack together FB: Okay. Getting back to the political arena, let's analyze the black voting patterns in Hillsbor ough County, how it affects black leaders or black politicians as a whole and what alternatives should we seek in orde r for more blacks to be elected. AA: Well, there's several things that we have to do. The first thing that we need to do is to bring abo ut an understanding of what politics means, what it's all about. That's the first step. We have, as in many areas, we've kind of attack ed the you're trying to get o n a horse from the rear end instead of from the front, approach the problem backwards. We're asking our people to respond to something that most people don't understand because we've had an involvement in it. Up until a few years ago let's see this i s 1979 ; let's say fifteen to twenty years ago in many places it was still against the law for us to even register to vote let alone think about holding an office or running for an office. We couldn't even register to vote, a s compared to other people who've come into the community, the immigrants from other p arts of the world, who brought with the m some form of political tradition whether the politics that they were escaping from were dictatorial, totalitarian, c ommunistic, f ascistic, or s ocialistic or some form of western democracy. At lea st when those people came here from Cuba, from England, f rom Russia they came with some understanding of politics and with some form of political involvement.
15 We have been denied that other than during the brief period of Reconstruction when we experienced and then it was taken away. During the whole first s ixty years roughly sixty years o f this century we were denied any political involvement whatsoever. It's unrealistic to expect a person who not only does not understand the power of the ballot, the use of the ballot, what government is all about, but also a person who has been physically threatened, who has grow n up knowing that they could lo se their lives for even showing any interest in this area A nd now because the law has suddenly changed we are automatically expect people to just come out and respon d. So, I think that's a serious mistake o n our part. In Hillsborough County, for example there are a lot of people who've come here from other parts of the county, other parts of the S outh, and are just politically ignorant, period. So that's something that we need to seriously face up to. Once we begin to deal with that problem then we can start talking about trying to achieve 90 100 percent voter registration. O nce we get the voter registratio n then we can start talking about r ealistically getting 9 0 percent of our people to go to the poll s. Hand in hand with that and this comes with explain ing what politics is all about we have to make the issues clear and s how how government, or representation in gover nment, can help make the streets better, can help create better housing, can help create more jobs or improve wages and these kinds of things, can help better education FB : That's right. Okay. We have another issue. Excuse me. AA: Go ahead. FB: ( inaudible ) the s ingle member d istricts, what is you r opinion o n that? AA: Well, I think it's essential that we bring about a single member district board. OA : Okay. And we'd like to get some projections and if in fact it happens what will happen if we are not a united commu nity in the sense that you ( i naudible ) ? AA: Yeah, okay. The single member district voting is important and will be especially import a nt in those districts that are designed that are created to be, say, majority African American. Now, what will happen and the thing we have to remembe r is that because we' re so spread out like in Hillsborough County, for example because we' re so spread out it still would mean that some of us in the neighborhoods and the communities that we live in would be in the minority and still may not be able to elect representation based o n the geographic area that we live in. But it will result in the creation of some districts where our people will be in the majority. And consequently we'd be able to elect representation there. But I think the unity that we need to achieve is essential and transcends geography. And if we could successfully achieve that it would offset, to a large extent, the absence of the single member district voting.
16 For example, t here have been I think if we take Reverend Lowry's elec tion for an example, I think based o n his own words of the, s ay, thirty or forty thousand votes that he g ot probably eight thousand were cast by African Americans in Hillsborough County. And this was county wide. This was county wide. Now I forget the to tal voting population amongst our people but in terms of numbers we represent somewhere sixty to eighty thousand p eople in the county, depending o n who you listen to. Some people say we' r e closer to a hundred thousand people Again, unless we go back th rough all those steps, even single member dist rict voting will not solve the p roblem. We'll have single member district voting and we still will have a handful of people who'll be going to the poll s. And we ll still find ourselves not understanding the iss ues, being out voted. We'll find people being elected who have our complexion, who live in our neighborhoods, but will not have our interests at heart, who will not have the proper kind of understanding of the again, the proper and correct approach to solv ing the many problems that we face. You'll have people who will be put up to run by people who are by other folks and other forces that would really be enemies of our advancem ent. Just like in the ol d slavery days you had leadership that was set up by t he slave master to teach the slave tha t he was better off as a slave. And the same thing would be true in 1979, 1980, 1981. We'd have people running for office and successfully being elected who would be proposing things that would be keeping us that would be holding us back instead of moving us forward, that would be keeping us dependent and subservient instead of leading us toward greater independence and greater self sufficiency. So, again, the need for unity, the need for solidarity, the need for us to bind together based o n common experiences and common destiny transcends the question of single member district voting. OA : Also AA: Yeah. OA : Fo r example, particular people interested in running for political office blacks who are interested in runnin g for political office particularly young black people could you give us some account of your experience in terms of running for office ? W hat were some of the lessons that you think that people should be aware of and have a true understanding of at least ? AA: Yeah. Well, prior to my deciding to run in 1978 I had worked in other people's campaigns. I assisted Del in his campaign when he ran for c ity c ouncil. I worked with Warren [Hope Dawson] in support of his campaign when he ran for the House of Represe ntatives. I worked for Mrs. [Mary Alice] Dorsett when she ran a couple of times. For Mrs. Harmon when she ran for office. So, I didn't consider myself to be a political novice. Plus, I've always tried to keep abreast of different ( tape skips ) and the thi ngs that were happenin'. And, again, pertaining to education itself had been going down to and wrestlin' with the school board and the school staff school administration since
17 1970 so I was fairly familiar with those things pertaining to education, or so I thought. But running for office isn't you know (OA and FB laugh) Backing somebody else when they do it is one thing, but d oing it yourself if a completely different ball game. FB: Like (inaudible) (all laugh) AA: Yeah, it's like running a marathon (OA laughs) A nd it's one thing to be tra ining somebody or to be o n the sidelines cheering somebody on, but when you're out there yourself it's grueling it's a grind, i t's very demanding a nd very challenging. But it's also very rewarding in another se nse. It's grueling and demanding in the sense that you have a relatively short period of time to try to make yourself known to as many people as possible. And that's what it's all about E lectoral politics is about letting more people know about you and what you stand for and winning their support based o n that than your opponent does. It's about outworking your opponent. Your opponent may have no program and you may have the best program. But if he gets out an d introduces himself to more people, knocks o n more doors, stands o n corners, appears before more groups, has more money to buy more literature and put up more posters and television time, radio time, then regardless of how right, how correct, or how wise you may be you're just gonna lose. OA : Ther e you go. AA: It's just that simple. So anybody thinking about runnin', number one, they ought to be willing to make tremendous sacrifice and do a lot of work. I had a couple hurdles to overcome two or three well, three major hurdles to overcome, all o f which I recognized before I decided to enter into a race. First of all, I knew that I had the advantage, in our community, of name recognition. And that's important. Again, when a person walks into a ballot box they don't remember your whole history. In most cases they don't even know. And they can't recite your platform, your program N ine times out of ten once you get past that major candidates, people just look down the list and they go "Eenie, meenie, min e y moe, unless they see a name that they r emember for some reasons or another. So n ame recognition is important. B ecause I'd been so active in the community I knew that that was an asset. On the other hand, because of the militant period in my life, and involvement here, there was some controver sy that surrounded that. There was a time when people the mayor and the chief of police and the sheriff's department and the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation], and just the establishment in general tried to make it seem that me and people like myself p eople who were concerned and wanted to bring about some changes in society that we were public enemies number one. That we were out to just out to destroy. That we were out to burn up everybody's houses and take away their jobs
18 and rape their ch ildren. We were sellin' drugs o n the street and all this kind of stuff. And all of that had been put out in the public. So I knew that I would have to contend with that. And sure enough right after I announced I was runnin g the first thing the [ Tampa ] Tribune di d was to blast me as bein g an ex criminal and ex this and ex that. So that was my introduction (laughs) FB : That was the introduction. AA: Right, that was my introduction. OA : That was your introduction. AA: Right. The other problem that I had to contend with was lack of time. Now, I really had not intended to run for school board. I had been watching and keeping up with it, who was running for different offices. I knew that with the different probl ems that faced us in education, as well as in oth er areas, that somebody ought to run. And I had heard rumors that other people were considering running, so I had not made any p lans. I was waiting for somebody else to announce so I could back th em. And finally as the days grew shorter I realized that n obody was going to get in the race. So I decided that I would get in just so that somebody from our community would be involved and so that we would not miss the opportunity to speak out about some of the problems that we had been battling against in othe r forms. So I decided like two days before the deadline that I would get in the r ace I think. L ike Tuesday at twelve noon in August was the deadline for qualifying and that Tuesday morning I ran down to the s upervisor of e lections o ffice and got my pa pers together and ran over to Dale's and a couple of other places and got em all notarized and filled out, a nd ran over to the bank and opened up an account real fast. And then ran to the s upervisor of e lections o ffice and at eleven thirty eleven forty five I was sittin' there fillin' the papers out to make sure that I didn't miss the deadline. And of co urse, that left I think seven weeks to try to campaign. Seven weeks up until the first primary. Becau se the race I was in, District Six School Board, represented the whole county then it meant I had seven weeks to try to get into the whole county. So this is another lesson. I've been here thirteen years but we d on't realize that, for the most part, we travel very narrow paths. We go from home to th e s tore, from the store to school or to work, go visit a few friends, but otherwise, they are parts of the city, parts of the county that most of us [Transcriber's note: This interview was recorded onto two tapes. The Oral History Program only has the fi rst tape, having never received the second. The following portion of the interview was transcribed by the Black History of Tampa Project staff in the 1970s.]
19 Tape 1, side 2 ends; tape 2, side 1 begins AA: to look at your constituency in a c ity c ouncil r ace. The way it is set up now you live in a district but you're still elected city wide. And the c ounty c ommissioner's race, the s chool b oard race you have to live within a particular district but you're still elected county wide. So a person considering running for office has to consider th at sa y our whole county is your constituency. You know, we can't just look toward "our people" to elect us to office. It's a reality of the situation. If we were in Newark o r another place where we were 50 60 70 p ercent o f the population then you could that would be a viable approach to take. You could get enough of "our people" to go to the polls and support yo u then you could win. In Tampa Hillsborough County, it's not the case a nd, for the most part, still wil l not be the case even after single member district voting is brought about. W e'll still be faced with pretty much the same situation. So that affects the nature of the political approach ; it has to. You know politics is called "the art of the possible." It's one definition; it's the art of the possible. So it would be unwise politically to adopt an approach that makes it impossi ble for you to win. It becomes i t's an exercise in futility to do that. You know, again, it helped me to understand a little bit better the diversity of Hillsborough County, and how large it is. I found that in getting around to different areas of the county. You know, right away when you announce there are certain things that begin to happen just because you announce that you'r e in the race. You begin to receive calls and mail from peop le who invite you out there to get to know the candidates. They invite you to sp eak. They invite you to little teas or gatherings and what have you. Of course, that's mostly symbolic because if y ou have fifty or sixty people running for all these different offices and everybody's given two minutes, three minutes to speak ; the maximum is five minutes S o by the time you get up and give your name, your age, how much you eat every day and what you do for a living and some of the kinds of things that you'd like to try to do if you were elected and then of course, that's preceded by and followed by a whole line of people N obody really remembers that luncheon. You know, nobody really remembers that mu ch of what you say. But still it's important that you make all these engagements. So, like me, I was wor king full time. I'd get off at five, five thirty FB: [He answers the door when there is an interruption and explains that the taping session will b e done soon.] AA: Yeah I'd get off at five, five thirty and maybe have five different places to try to be that evening. So we had to be i n one part of the county at five thirty and some where else we're supposed to be two other places at six o'clock one over here and one over ther e. And somewhere else to be at seven o'clock And somewhere else to be at eight And you have to try to make as many of those as possible. And this goes on day after day after day. At the same time you have to be able to set you r own schedule and have your own
20 activities, have your own organizational meetings, have your own group out working, going door to door and putting up signs, scheduling meetings and activities and what have you. So i t's a lot of work. It's really a lot of work. It takes a lot of time, a lot of energy, and a lot of times you just want to lay d own and cover your head up. But OA : I can imagine. AA: Yeah, it's an endurance race. It's really an endurance race. And then, of course, your fundraising is impor tant. There are many people in our community who are politically conscious, in the sense that they realize that we need representation, that we are black, that it's a denial of basic democratic and constitutional rights for the government to continue to op erate every day without us being represented. Many of us realize that, but at the same time because we don't have a political tradition we don't have the experience of decades and hundreds of years of being politically active w e don't know what to do. S o a lo t of people that would pass you, or call and say, "Hey, I hear you're runnin g for office ; that's great," but then they don't know what to do after that. Unless you bump into them, you never even get that from them. You never know they're supporting y ou. We have to learn how to plan parties and plan meetings. You know wh en you hear somebody's running for office, don't wait for them to get in touch with you Y ou get in touch with them a nd invite them over to your church of your organization or your school or your club or your neighborhood or your home to start raising money or to just send in a little check whether it's a dollar or five dollars, or what have you. There was a number of pluses, again, all things considered I understood what I was up against before I did it : the time element, the quote unquote reputation that I had to deal with, and then the limitations because I was working full time and had other commitments and involvements. But on the whole, in a r elatively short period of time seven weeks time, we raised about fourteen, about thirteen hundred dollars and I got close to eleven thousand votes. So I think that's a sign to other people, and it was a sign to me I f I decided to run for office again I'd do it the way I was suppo sed to be done. You have to start in advance, you have to start early, making yourself known, speaking out on different issues. If it's the school b oard you're interested in running in, start attending the meetings not three months before the election, but six months, nine months, a year. And if you're genuinely interested, of course, you would have kept abreast of it and involved in some way even before then. But at least, do that. If it's c ity c ouncil start goin g down there so you're familiar with what t hey're talking about, familiar w ith how it operates Y ou get to make your face known to some of the people there and they get to see your face and you aren't caught totally unaware.
21 Something else that I learned was that we deal with a certain perspecti ve of things and we define that as a black perspective, loosely speaking, because this is part of what we have been advocating. We have been trying to interject that into American life because it has been missing for so long. But our perspective is not t he total perspective. OA: (inaudible) AA: And in a community like Hillsborough or Tampa, whereas we have to be advocates for our people. Right? Otherwise we h ave no reason for being there. W e have to do that first. That's our first responsibility, to be advocates for our community, for our needs for our people. Yet at the same time we also represent other communities, other people, other interests of the community. And we have to seek to understand those and to seek to represent those too as long as t hey don't conflict with our own. All right? As long as they don't go against what we're trying to do. For an example, we sought out people from the Cuban community and went and talked with them and made some good acquaintances and got a chance to understa nd some of the things that they were concerned with. It was good politics to do that. And secondly, it helped us bridge a gap that we felt was worth bridging for more reasons than one. So that's something else. Like with the School Board we had, for the most part most of our attention is focused on things dealing with race, whether it's past discrimination or suspension problems or whether schools are being closed because they're in our community, these kinds of things. But other aspects of the total edu cational picture we don't look at very much. Like, very few of us pay attention or know how schools are funded, how they're set up economically, how they operate. Things havin g to do with budget t he taxation system, millage and these kinds of things. Yet, when you get in a race for the seat the people that you're asking to support you are going to ask you thi s because they want to know whether you know what you're getting into. FB: That's right. AA: Whether you're intelligent enough and aware enough to be able t o make a wise decision once you if you're elected, once you get there S ee? So these are some of the kinds of things that we have to do a lot of homework on. And then, of course, it's through building a good political movement, a good solid campa ign in our community. And this is something that I knew how to do based on other prior experience. But again, given time limitation, there were many things we wanted to do just didn't have time to do. But politics is something, and political campaigning is something that you don't just hear about, but it's something that you see and it's something that you feel. People should be able, should be moved, should be stirred by a campaign, by a candidacy. In our community we need rallies and we need the marche s and we need even the fish fries and these kinds of things. You know, ways of making people know that something is happening and getting them to come out and get involved. These are just means of getting
22 people educated to what the issues are anyway and making yourself known and making you aware of the issues. But I think that's essential. That's something that Reverend Lowry's campaign did not do. He did not build a political movement in our community. He didn't do it. And none of the candidacies that I have witnesse d to date have been successful including my own have been successful in doing that to the degree that I think it should. And I think that's very critical, not only for the sake of the individual person that's running for office, but it is ess ential to begin to develop that sense of feeling and understanding what politics is really all a bout and how it can bring about change. It's essential. That's why you look at those countries that have been able to achieve revolution in some form or anothe r. Regard less of what the ideology was, the leadership succeeded T he parties succeeded because they were able to move the masses of the people. They were able to move the masses of the people in support of their party, in support of their cause, in suppor t of their philosophy. And the eviden ces of that they announce they're having a meeting, they announce they're having a rally, they call a strike, they call a boycott, they get tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people who respond. And t hat's important. And the same thing when you're talking about going to the polls. They announce that they are running, what have you, they get millions of masses of people who respo nd. When we are successful, w hen some candidate or some group or organiza tion is successful in building that kind of movement then we will begin to see a transformation in the community. But that's the only way it's going to come about. The politics has to be in the mass movement. End of interview